Seven years ago I lived in a little studio apartment and I was lonely and recovering from some of life’s hardships. I decided to foster a cat until we could find a home for him. Panda was gray and while and had a severe injury to one side of his face. We thought he might have been burned: the skin had necrotized, the eye had to be removed, and to reduce the risk of severe infection, and the remaining skin had to be surgically reconnected until new skin cells could grow underneath. He was very ill and had several surgeries as we tried to get the damaged tissue to heal. Little Panda behaved so well through his painful treatments, and I held him for hours while he recovered from the anesthesia. Meanwhile, I dated, and friends and family visited. No one understood why I kept such a hideously disfigured cat, and spent so much time taking care of him. They were afraid of touching him, and didn’t want him to come near them. They made jokes and ignored him and wished he would go away. But Panda was the sweetest cat and he needed me and I needed him. We were both healing. He always ate all his food, and drank his water and used his litter box. He bathed himself and purred a lot. He was very affectionate and would lie next to me every night and watch TV and we’d eat cheese popcorn and other treats together. He would nibble my fingers and cuddle so close to me. I loved him very much.
Then one day I met a handsome man named Tony. He had a couple of cats and parrots and a big iguana that I was sure was a baby dinosaur. I invited him over, and warned him about Panda. Panda was getting worse, not better, and the side of his face with the missing eye was raw and red and swollen. It was late that night and Panda was comfortably sleeping on a pile of clothes. After talking till the wee hours, Tony and I fell asleep. We woke up at dawn and Panda was sitting on Tony’s chest staring with his one eye about 2 inches from Tony’s face. Tony reached out and petted and comforted him and looked at me with a tear in his eye.
Soon we found out that Panda had FIV and would not heal. He got worse and we had to put him to sleep. Tony went with me and as I ran out of the exam room crying before the final injection, Tony stayed and held and talked to Panda until the end. I married Tony soon after that and we are still madly in love. He says that he learned about what kind of person I was from how I took care of Panda. The feeling is mutual. We have five healthy, happy cats now, but will never forget how Panda brought us together and taught us what is important to us.
Jane Perry, 8/9/05